KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia reopened its borders on Friday to allow quarantine-free travel and tourism after two years, as the country transitions to treating COVID-19 as endemic.
The reopening also allows family and friends to meet again and eases shortages of badly needed foreign labor. But all air travelers must show a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of their departure.
Airports around Malaysia are set to receive 119 flights on Friday, the Civil Aviation Commission Malaysia said in a statement. Kuala Lumpur International Airport -- the country's busiest airport -- will receive flights from Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, India, Qatar, Turkey and the U.K.
Airport operator Malaysia Airports Holdings expects 21,000 international arrivals on Friday alone -- about six times more than average daily international arrivals in 2021.
The land border between Malaysia and Singapore also fully reopened. Thousands of people from Singapore were seen lining up at immigration checkpoints. Fully vaccinated travelers arriving through the land border are exempted from quarantine and COVID tests when they enter.
Khairiah Majid, a graphic designer from Singapore, told Nikkei that she has been waiting a long time to visit her ailing friend in the state of Johor.
"I was trying to get through the vaccinated travel lane but couldn't make it," she said. Khairiah began waiting at the border from 6 p.m. on Thursday -- six hours before the new borders went into effect.
The Transport Ministry estimates about 400,000 people will cross the Malaysia-Singapore border in the first week.
Yugenthiran Kanagasabai, a chef, who arrived on a flight from India at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, said clearing immigration took only 10 minutes, and there was not much waiting for fully credentialed arrivals. "There were no unnecessary stops or questions. Just passport and vaccination certificate," he said.
Tourism Minister Nancy Shukri, who was at the airport to welcome a flight from Qatar, said the government expects two million tourists to visit the country before year-end.
That would translate into over 8.6 billion ringgits ($2 billion) in tourist revenue, she said.
Only four million international tourists entered Malaysia in all of 2021 -- an 83% nosedive from the 26.1 million tourists in 2019.
"We are very happy that the tourism and leisure industry players are finally breathing a sigh of relief," Shukri said. "With the reopening, all they have to do is be prepared, but the government [is also] prepared to help them."